Recent Posts



No tags yet.

BBA Economic Digest

Ride for the Brand

Economic developers could learn a thing or two from cowboys of the Old West who would "ride for the brand."

Back then, the brand went beyond that of a ranch’s symbol permanently marked on cattle to show ownership. When a cowboy rode for the brand, it meant that he was a dedicated team player, absolutely committed to the ranch and his employer.

“Son, a man’s brand is his own special mark that says this is mine, leave it alone. You hire out to a man, ride for his brand and protect it like it was your own,” wrote Red Steagall, in his 1993 book, "Ride for the Brand," a collection of poetry and songs embracing the cowboy culture.

I'm old school in my belief that if you work for an economic development organization, you must be fully committed to making good things happen in your community, be it a city, county, state or region. That's your ranch. That's your brand.

You may disagree with a strategic direction, but you live by a code which says that you give it your all while you are employed as a hired hand on the ranch.

In short, you need to ride for the brand.

The Immigrant Solution

Immigration to the U.S. has slowed dramatically, likely due to the Trump administration’s actions reducing admission of refugees and its anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Despite that, America’s total foreign-born population stands at an all-time high of close to 45 million. That’s 13.7 percent of the U.S. population, about one percentage point lower than the all-time high of 14.7 percent, back in 1910, during the great immigration wave of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Metros in the South and Midwest have seen the biggest gains, while some large metros on the East Coast, plus the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Chicago, saw considerable declines.

The new pattern of immigration shows a shift to more highly educated immigrants, with college graduates making up more than 60 percent of the net gain in foreign-born adults (over the age of 25) between 2010 and 2018; they are just one-third of native-born Americans.

My take: Legal immigration has long been a powerful source of economic growth in the U.S., especially for affluent metro areas.

With U.S. population aging and growth having fallen to 80-year lows, I believe “heartland visas” -- channeling highly-skilled immigrants to the left-behind, rural places -- could jump start growth in such communities.

Communities would opt-in to hosting visa holders, who would provide a much-needed catalyst of human capital and entrepreneurial vitality into parts of the country that frankly need it most. I'll be writing more about this in the future.

Hello Happiness, Goodbye Loneliness

You've heard the old saying that money cannot buy you happiness. Well, it's true that there are many rich folks who are absolutely miserable.

But many studies show that financial security, more so than absolute wealth, does bring a degree of satisfaction, indeed happiness, to one's life.

In business, a "rainmaker' is someone who brings positive change to an organization, usually in the form of clients, money and prestige.

Economic developers, charged with the seemingly impossible task of finding ways and means to grow their local economies, can also be rainmakers.

If their efforts are successful, they are contributing to the financial wellbeing of others in their communities.

In that regard, economic developers are not just rainmakers. No, they're more than that, they’re also happy makers. Now how cool is that?

If you need help in making growth happen in your community, if you want to be a rainmaker/happy maker, let’s talk.

Now Hold on Thar, Baba Looey

Not long ago, I had a lengthy talk with a fellow who heads workforce development for a community college network. The more he told me of the programs that his group was working on, the more impressed I became.

At one point during our conversation, he said, "I'm no economic developer but ..." I stopped him in mid-sentence. "Now hold on thar, Baba Looey, (not his real name), you're very much an economic developer. In fact, you're one of the more knowledgeable economic developers I've met in a very long time. You understand what is at stake and you've got these great training programs that are really going to change peoples' lives."

The way I see it, the future of economic development will come down to workforce preparedness. Communities that initiate public/private sponsored programs that provide people with do-it-yourself, life-long learning and upskilling at little or no cost will differentiate themselves.

Bottom line: Workforce development and economic development should be thought of as one in the same.

What Will AI Really Mean?

For several years now, I've been reading studies on artificial intelligence.

My conclusion: The experts (Note, they're not economic development consultants.) believe that AI will soon be a constant companion in our lives, but there is no consensus on what it will really mean.

About the only thing they do agree on is that AI, an all pervasive, general-purpose technology (really an amalgam of evolving technologies), will change not only how we work, but the workforce and the workplace. That has huge ramifications for economic development.

To some, an AI world means more jobs. To others, it means a wrecking ball to jobs. To some, AI represents a deadly threat to human existence; to others, it means better health and longer lives. To some, it means better decision making; to others, a loss of privacy. (It probably means all these things.)

AI is a complicated, and it is evolving. Few understand the opaque technologies involved, much less how these employed algorithms truly affect us. I could cite for you study after conflicting study.

My point is nobody really knows how this is going to play out. I would caution economic developers from spending money on webinars by those who are not equipped to answer what AI will really mean to us.

My recommendation: Read.

London Calling

This past week, I received a telephone call from London from an FDI organization that wants me to write my thoughts about the proper use of incentives for capital investment projects.

Initially, I didn't want to do it, as I write what I want write and not what somebody else wants me to write. But they sweet talked me, said they want my take on it, which changes things a bit.

As a backdrop, I find it interesting that London has supplanted New York for fintech investment and it has increased its dominance of the world’s $6.6 trillion daily foreign exchange market.

That London has expanded its influence as an international finance center is one of the biggest riddles of the United Kingdom’s tortuous three year Brexit saga. London remains the largest net exporter of financial services in the world, a global hub for trading, lending and investing.

Methinks I should get over to London to tell European companies how BBA can offer them a better way of finding a best site in North America. Unlike some, we provide our services for a flat fee, and will not steer a corporate client to a location based on percentage of incentives fee, an inherent conflict of interest.

We always want our clients to be the master of their universe.

What We're Reading

How Two Kentucky Farmers Became the Kings of Croquet Deadspin

The China Connection: How One D.E.A. Agent Cracked a Global Fentanyl Ring The New York Times Magazine

Five Black Men Raided Harpers Ferry with John Brown. They’ve Been Forgotten. Washington Post

Will Robots Kill Our Jobs? Boston Globe

Something Special Is Happening in Rural America New York Times

Now They're Here and They're Becoming Americans Washington Post


With his booming voice and a speaking cadence with hints of the pulpit, Elijah Cummings, a son of sharecroppers, was a presence on Capitol Hill. For more than two decades, he represented a section of Baltimore with more than its share of social problems.

The congressman had lived in the same West Baltimore row house for more than three decades.

“I don’t live in the inner city. I live in the inner-inner city and there are not a lot of congressman who grew up in the inner city, let alone still live there,” Cummings told Baltimore Magazine in 2014. “It is an important voice to bring to Congress that needs to be heard.”

A fierce defender of the Democratic party and its interests, Cummings also had strong friendships with Republicans, who held him in high regard. He had an especially improbable bond with Representative Mark Meadows, Republican of North Carolina and a leader of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus.

When Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan accused Meadows of racism at an Oversight Committee hearing earlier this year, Cummings intervened to ably defuse tensions, calling Meadows “one of my best friends.”

“There was no stronger advocate and no better friend than Elijah Cummings,” Meadows tweeted Thursday. “I am heartbroken for his wonderful family and staff — please pray for them. I will miss him dearly.”

At a time, when partisan rancor would appear to be the norm, I thought it would be appropriate to quote Republicans who knew and worked with Cummings.

Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas): "In my time working with him, he was upfront, gracious, & caring. Here, in July after a typical debate with @OversightDems, he asked me to see my son & I am so grateful. God bless you, faithful servant. RIP"

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.): “Elijah’s passion for serving his beloved city was easy to see in everything that he did, and his determination to fight for equality and civil rights will never be forgotten. He was a friend to all and sought to use his position in Congress to bridge divides, not widen them."

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas): "Rest in peace Elijah Cummings, a dedicated public servant and a good man. I pray for his family, loved ones and staff during this difficult time."

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.): "Elijah Cummings was one of the most powerful, beautiful & compelling voices in American politics. The power and the beauty came from his authenticity, his conviction, the sincerity with which he held his beliefs ... The story of Elijah's life would benefit everyone, regardless of political ideation."

In recent years, Cummings seemed particularly aware that his time on Earth was short, and that we all have to seize the minute we're given. More than once, he could be heard discussing the prospect of "dancing with the angels."